Tulsa’s historic Spotlight Theatre launches massive renovation effort
By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer | Published by Tulsaworld.com
March 31, 2013
Every Saturday night, actors and stage crew gather at the Spotlight Theatre on Riverside Drive not just to put on a show for the audience, but to put on a show with the audience.
That show is “The Drunkard,” a reworking of a 19th-century melodrama about the evils of “demon alcohol” that has been presented for nearly 60 years by the Tulsa Spotlighters.
“We always try to get the audience involved in the action,” said Wayne Hall, president of the theater’s board of directors. “We have a sing-along with our pianist. We want people to boo the villain and cheer the hero.
“Even our children’s shows always end up going out into the audience,” he said. “It’s all part of the tradition here.”
These days, the action the Tulsa Spotlighters hope to get its audiences – and the rest of the Tulsa community – involved in is an effort to raise funds needed to restore and refurbish the company’s home.
The Spotlight Theatre, at 1381 Riverside Drive, has overlooked the Arkansas River since 1928, when the Bruce Goff-designed building – a combination of theater space and residential quarters – became the home of music teacher Patti Adams Shriner.
In the 1940s, it became the home and studio of actor and teacher Richard Mansfield Dickinson, who opened the theater space to a group of amateur actors to put on a one-night-only performance of Dickinson’s adaptation of “The Drunkard.”
That was November 1953, and every Saturday night since then, this small theater has played host to 11 actors portraying the denizens of a dive in the town of Cedarville.
“The Drunkard” is officially the longest continuously running play in American theater history. Only Agatha Christie’s “The Mousetrap,” which opened in London’s West End in November 1952, has been around longer.
But time and tides of actors and audience members have more than taken their toll on the Spotlight.
So on Friday, the company is hosting what it calls a “Renovation Rally” to inaugurate its fundraising campaign that will bring the guts of the facility – its electrical, plumbing, heating and air-conditioning apparatus – up to date, while preserving and enhancing the building’s art deco style.
“We’re wanting this to be as much a grass-roots effort as anything,” Hall said. “If people want to contribute $20, that’s marvelous. If they want to contribute more, that’s fine, too.”
Long list of fixes
Doing everything that needs to be done, said Sue Wiedemann, treasurer of the Tulsa Spotlighters, would require about $4 million.
That would include replacing the theater’s current heating and air system with a geothermal heat exchange system, creating a parking lot out of the empty lot on the theater’s north side, creating an additional restroom and entrance ramp for patrons with disabilities, replacing roofs, rebuilding the staircases within and without the building, and completely stripping away and replacing the aging white stucco from the building’s facade. (Click here to read the entire article.)